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A deep dive into selected work sectors during the COVID-19 pandemic and the "living with COVID" phase: understanding similarities and differences in practice, perceptions, and preparedness.

OBJECTIVES: When it comes to controlling workplace transmission of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, different workplaces and industrial sectors face different challenges, both in terms of likely transmission routes and which control measures can be practically, economically, and effectively implemented. This article considers a large body of research in the United Kingdom across different work sectors and time points during the COVID-19 pandemic to better understand mitigation measures, challenges to mitigating the risk of SARS-COV-2 transmission, knowledge gaps, and barriers and enablers to control viral transmission.

METHODS: Data is drawn from 2 phases of research. Phase 1 gathered data from an interactive workshop (April 2022) where PROTECT researchers working across 8 work sectors shared knowledge and expertise from research conducted between 2020 and 2022. Phase 2 revisited 6 of these sectors to explore participants' views on the "living with COVID" phase of the pandemic (February-October 2022) through qualitative interviews.

RESULTS: Our findings emphasise the importance of considering the characteristics of each work sector (and their sub-sectors), relative to the physical workplace and workforce, the ways organisations operate, and how they interact with the public. Study findings show that participant's views and organisational practices changed quickly and significantly over the course of the pandemic. Most participants initially perceived that the majority of risk mitigations would remain in place for the foreseeable future. However, following the change in Government Guidance towards "living with COVID", most mitigation measures were quickly removed and it had become necessary for sectors/organisations to restore normal operations, thereby treating the COVID-19 virus like any other illness, while remaining prepared for future health emergencies that may arise.

CONCLUSION: We suggest that national policy makers and organisational leaders remain mindful of the lessons learned and knowledge gained at all levels (national, regional, local, organisational, and individual) during the COVID-19 pandemic. We make recommendations in support of recovery as sectors/organisations continue "living with COVID" and other respiratory diseases; balanced with longer term planning for the next public health crisis.

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